The Village Voice received an improbable trademark over the use of "BEST OF" in connection with lists of the best things on offer in various cities, and now they're suing Yelp for creating their own "Best of" lists. This ridiculous suit is only possible because of the US Patent and Trademark Office's bungling, terrible methods, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry writes, and will only be resolved when the USPTO cleans up its act:
What is going on at the Patent and Trademark Office? For decades, folks have been complaining (with good reason) that the patent examiners need to do a better job of screening out bogus patent applications. It’s clear that the problem extends to the trademark side as well. The PTO has allowed companies and individuals to register marks in any number of obviously generic and/or descriptive terms, such as “urban homestead” (to refer to urban farms), “gaymer” (to refer to gay gamers), and “B-24” (to refer to model B-24 bombers).
Once a mark is registered, it is all too easy for the owner to become a trademark bully. And while companies like Yelp have the resources to fight back (as we expect it will), small companies and individuals may not. Just as dangerous, the trademark owner may go upstream, to intermediaries like Facebook who have little incentive to do anything other than take down an account or site that’s accused of infringement.
"Good enough for government work" isn't good enough for free speech. It’s time the PTO did its part to stop trademark bullies and tightened up the trademark application process. Fewer bogus registrations means fewer bogus threats, and more online creativity and competition. That's a win for everyone.
New York City is always bright. Street lights, business marquees, light from apartments and car headlights merge to light every corner of the city streets, even on the darkest nights. It is the night after NYC was decimated by Hurricane Sandy, downtown NYC is in the midst of a power outage that has plunged it into complete darkness. I felt the call to hit the eerily dark streets and show New York as it is rarely seen. Trekking around with my tripod I was able to get the long exposures necessary to see in the dark.
Read the rest
The election is next week. And, with that in mind, Salon's Paul Campos has posted a helpful reminder explaining what the statistics at the fivethirtyeight blog actually mean (and what they don't).
In particular, you have to remember that, while Nate Silver gives President Obama a 77.4 percent chance of winning the presidential election, that's not the same thing as saying that Obama is going to win.
Suppose a weather forecasting model predicts that the chance of rain in Chicago tomorrow is 75 percent. How do we determine if the model produces accurate assessments of probabilities? After all, the weather in Chicago tomorrow, just like next week’s presidential election, is a “one-off event,” and after the event the probability that it rained will be either 100 percent or 0 percent. (Indeed, all events that feature any degree of uncertainty are one-off events – or to put it another way, if an event has no unique characteristics it also features no uncertainties).
The answer is, the model’s accuracy can be assessed retrospectively over a statistically significant range of cases, by noting how accurate its probabilistic estimates are. If, for example, this particular weather forecasting model predicted a 75 percent chance of rain on 100 separate days over the previous decade, and it rained on 75 of those days, then we can estimate the model’s accuracy in this regard as 100 percent. This does not mean the model was “wrong” on those days when it didn’t rain, any more than it will mean Silver’s model is “wrong” if Romney were to win next week.
What Silver is predicting, in effect, is that as of today an election between a candidate with Obama’s level of support in the polls and one with Mitt Romney’s level of support in those polls would result in a victory for the former candidate in slightly more than three out of every four such elections.
Australian geeky women's clothing maker Black Milk (previously featured many times on Boing Boing) has rolled out a new line of Star Wars clothes, including a lovely pair of Star Wars Montage leggings.
It can be a nice breeze, or a destructive storm, but either way wind is just moving air. And moving air is just moving molecules.
In an explainer for kids that's actually pretty helpful for grown-ups, too, Matt Shipman reminds us that the air around us isn't totally weightless. It weighs something, because molecules all weigh something:
They don't weigh very much (you couldn't put one on your bathroom scale), but their weight adds up, because there are a LOT of molecules in the air that makes up our atmosphere. All of that air is actually pretty heavy, so the air at the bottom of the atmosphere (like the air just above the ground) is getting pressed on by all of the air above it. That pressure pushes the air molecules at the bottom of the atmosphere a lot closer together than the air molecules at the top of the atmosphere.
And, because the air at the top of the atmosphere is pushing down on the air at the bottom of the atmosphere, the air molecules at the bottom REALLY want to spread out. So if there is an area where the air molecules are under high pressure (with a lot of weight pushing down), the air will spread out into areas that are under lower pressure (with less weight pushing down).
Prince Ea, who made the excellent "Backwards Rapper" video last year and “Smoking Weed with the President” this year has just released his latest music video, called "For: Obama, From: The People." Ea is the founder of Make Smart Cool, whose mission is to "compellingly promote the ideals of education, intelligence, unity and creativity throughout the world at large."
Just in time for Halloween, Sci Curious blogs about a case report, published in a peer-reviewed research journal, covering the strange story of a patient with lycanthropy — which is, to say, a bad case of werewolfitis. Lycanthropy as a Culture-Bound Syndrome: A Case Report and Review of the Literature was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice. And it was published this year.
Yes, in 2012. That's because the technical, medical definition of lycanthropy had nothing to do with physically transforming into a creature of the night. It's a mental thing, where patients believe they have transformed into some kind of animal, even though they are still demonstrably human. According to Sci Curious, the animals involved in lycanthropy include everything from the obvious (wolf) to the unintentionally hilarious (bee, gerbil).
In their survey of the literature, the authors of this study found many more incidences of people who believed they had been transformed into animals, and which resolved after psychiatric treatment. But what interested the authors of this study were WHAT people generally believed they had turned into. While some people believed they had been turned into gerbils or cows, a surprising number believed they had been turned into wolves, and, as with the case with this woman, snakes.
The authors believe that this is because of what different cultures associate with...evil. Many of the people with lycanthropy believed firmly that the devil had done this to them, and of course the devil would turn them into a beast that is usually considered EVIL. Like wolves, which have been associated with Satan since the middle ages, or snakes, which go all the way back to Genesis (and, as the authors note, the Ms. A was a very devout religious woman). So the authors suggest that the idea of werewolves might arise from people suffering from lycanthropy, and believing that they had been transformed into the evil thing which they most feared.
...But it doesn't really explain the gerbil.
Check out the original journal article (Behind a paywall.)
Via Jennifer Ouellette, who has more on the science of werewolves
This year I have become Fish-Man! The idea was inspired by the fish-man character, Toby, in the show Ugly Americans. I think the idea of a fish wearing pants is pretty hilarious, and luckily the costume turned out to be as funny as I hoped it would. I've already worn it out on the bus and train home from work and it made quite a few smiles all around :)
The head is chicken wire, screen door mesh, paper mache, foam and fabric. I also had to special order some very large pants which I velcroed to the fish head. Oh, and the eyes light up too-- they're those battery-operated closet push-lights ;)
I'll be walking in the 16th Annual Halloween on Halsted Parade this Wednesday in Chicago at 7pm CST. Hope to see you Chicago readers there-- Happy Halloween!
Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child presentation at the MIT Tech Review EmTech conference recounted an inspiring experiment in which illiterate Ethiopian village-kids were given solar-charging laptops in sealed boxes, and quickly taught themselves how to operate, then master, then hack, these devices, acquiring basic literacy and technological literacy at the same time.
MIT Technology Review's David Talbot reports in a piece reprinted on Mashable.com:
The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.
Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”
Elaborating later on Negroponte’s hacking comment, Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer, said that the kids had gotten around OLPC’s effort to freeze desktop settings. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that,” McNierney said. “And the fact they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning.”
“If they can learn to read, then they can read to learn.”
In an interview after his talk, Negroponte said that while the early results are promising, reaching conclusions about whether children could learn to read this way would require more time. “If it gets funded, it would need to continue for another a year and a half to two years to come to a conclusion that the scientific community would accept,” Negroponte said. “We’d have to start with a new village and make a clean start.”
Here's the trailer for an upcoming O'Reilly book, called Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology, by James H. Carrott & Brian David Johnson. (Hi Cory!)
This book walks through the Steampunk movement and what their alternative history says about our own world and its technological future. It includes interviews with experts such as Cory Doctorow, James Gleick, and Margaret Atwood, who talk about how Steampunk has become a cultural movement.The authors have also just completed a documentary by the same name. You can see the trailer here